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National League Central Roundup – April Edition

National League Central

For those not keeping up with the St. Louis Cardinals, and what’s going on in the division, I am going to undertake a project to help you get a quick recap of what the heck has been going on.

At the end of every month, I will give a brief overview of what’s going on with every team within the National League Central – what’s working, what’s not working, and tidbits on every team to give you a grasp of what the Cards are up against this year.

I will go by divisional standings, so at the end of April, I’ll (unfortunately) start with the Chicago Cubs.

1. Chicago Cubs (13-11, L1, 6-4 in L10)

The Cubs find themselves at the top of the National League Central after the first month, and every writer in America is patting themselves on the back for the trendy pick right now.

Although not by a large margin or outstanding record, Chicago is still the team to be in an overall average division.

Why they’re winning:

Offense, offense, offense. This team has one of the best lineups in the league, and they continue to rake, scoring 122 runs as a team this season, tied for 5th best in all of Major League Baseball. They also hold a team batting average of .255, another top-10 team stat they can claim. When runs are needed, this team scores.

Why they’re losing:

Bullpen. If you had to pick one area of concern, or why they have lost 11 games, you could probably point at their relief pitching.

Wade Davis has been electric as their new closer, and Carl Edwards Jr. looks unreal at times, but the rest of the bullpen has been shaky.

Guys like Koji Uehara, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm have been wildcards, with Uehara being the best out of the three.

Five losses in relief, four blown saves and way too many walks aren’t stats that will get you to repeat as World Series Champions.

Biggest surprise:

This has to go to former Cardinal Jon Jay. Jay is enjoying an early season swing in which he is hitting .385 in 39 plate appearances. He provides the Cubs with another solid defender in the outfield and veteran leadership in the clubhouse. Joe Maddon was quoted as saying he’d even go so far to “adopt the guy,” because he’s been such a good addition to the club.

Outlook:

The Cubs are doing what we all expected them to do, and while their bullpen is probably the biggest point of emphasis, they’ll be first or second in this division all year.

2. (by tie-breaker rules) Milwaukee Brewers (13-13, 1 GB)

The Milwaukee Thames Brewers are enjoying second place in the National League Central for right now, riding the hot bat of Eric Thames for the first month of the season.

Why They’re Winning: 

Eric Thames. I hate to single out one player for an entire team’s victories, but can you imagine where the Brewers would be without this guy? He’s putting on a home run clinic, and we are all bearing witness to one of the best comeback stories in recent memory.

Eric Thames, National League
Not only does he have one of the best bats in the league, his beard game is so strong.

Why they’re losing:

Pitching. They may have 13 wins, but their pitching is some of the worst in baseball – especially their bullpen.

They’ve now used 12 different relievers in games this year, and it’s an on-going rotation of who actually sits down in the ‘pen every game.

Their starting pitching isn’t much better, as guys like Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta and Zach Davies all have ERA’s over five. Yikes.

Biggest surprise:

Is this allowed to go to anyone else than Thames? I mean the guy spent the last few years playing international ball, and now comes back and looks and performs like an MVP.

He’s hitting .345, with 11 dingers and 19 RBIs and has a WAR of 1.6.

TAKE THAT FOR DATA.

Outlook:

If Eric Thames hits 80 home runs, the Brewers will contend. But more than likely that won’t happen, and the Brewers won’t be up here for long.

3. St. Louis Cardinals (13-13, 1 GB)

With as bad as they played the first two weeks, the Cardinals are now .500 and sit in third in the National League Central.

For those of you who have kept up with us here at the RedBird Daily, there are WAY more detailed pieces highlighting both the good and bad this season – this is just a brief overview.

Why they’re winning:

Starting pitching. Despite Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright pooping their pants the first month, the Cardinals have ridden the hot hand of Mike Leake, and gotten fantastic outings from both Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha.

The latter three all have ERAs under three. How ’bout dat?

Why they’re losing:

Base running and poor defense. And it’s not even close.

The Cardinals have the second most errors in Major League baseball, the worst fielding percentage, and worst defensive efficiency. Let that sink in.

After being promised better defensive play this season, the Cardinals have done nothing but fart on themselves for the first month of play.

We were also promised better base running – and while there aren’t a ton of stats other than stolen bases/caught stealing, the bad play is as evident as ever.

National League Central
Jedd Gyorko is the man early for the Birds.

Biggest surprise:

You could go in a number of different ways here, but two things are sticking out right now to me – how bad Waino and C-Mart have been, and the play of Jedd Gyorko.

Gyorko is leading the team in average (.333) home runs (4) and has a crazy slugging percentage of .650.

Outlook:

The Cardinals are lucky to be where they are after a terrible start to the season. What is concerning is that they simply cannot continue to get nothing from C-Mart and Wainwright, and MUST get better defensively and on the base paths. If they do – they’ll contend. If they don’t – things will get ugly fast.

4. (by tie-breaker rules) Cincinatti Reds (11-13, 2 GB)

The Reds looked kind of good early (really early), but have only won eight of their last twenty games. This team is young across the board, and has a lot of issues that will probably keep them at the bottom of the National League Central all year.

Why they’re winning:

Running the bases, fielding. What is the Cardinals’ Achilles heal is the Reds’ golden spear – this team does the fundamental things really, really well.

They have the second least amount of errors in baseball (7), and have stolen ALL of the bases this season (23), which is the third best in the National League – led by Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza.

When you put those kind of numbers up, you will win some ball games, even with mediocre talent like Cincinnati has.

Why they’re losing:

Their pitching collectively just sucks for lack of a better word. They have a 4.63 ERA, second worst in the entire National League, and without a “go-to” arm on the team, it doesn’t look to get any better.

Biggest surprise:

Euegenio Suarez. He’s their best player right now, with a WAR of 1.9, and hitting a solid .329 – a mark he’s never even sniffed. He’s only 25, and the Reds look like they’ve found a solid core player to build on.

Outlook:

This team just lacks overall talent, and as a result, they’ll probably battle the Brewers/Reds for last place by season’s end.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates (11-13, 2 GB)

This team just can’t catch a break, and they now find themselves in the cellar of the National League Central.

Why they’re winning:

It’s hard to really figure out how they’re winning, and other than just saying “well they score more runs than the other team some nights” I honestly can’t pin point one area the Pirates are good at.

I think a fairer assessment will probably come after another month of play.

Why they’re losing:

Bad luck. I’m not sure if any team has been torn apart more by injuries and other circumstances that are keeping their players off the field.

From Jung Ho Kang and his legal troubles , Starling Marte’s PED suspension, to David Freese now being hurt – the Pittsburgh Pirates are just going to have to scrap for wins all year, as their best talent isn’t even playing.

Biggest Surprise:

David Freese. Although he suffered an injury setback recently, Freese was enjoying an offensive resurgence and was becoming one of the feel-good stories of the year, hitting .321 with three homers already.

Outlook:

This team is going to suck, and suck hard, all year long. They’ve just run into the worst case of luck I’ve seen out of a team in quite awhile. They need to start thinking about 2018.

(1500 words later…)

This was exhaustive, but hopefully provides you with a better sense of each team as the St. Louis Cardinals head into the month of May.

Thanks for reading.

 

For more long winded articles, times that I used the counter on Microsoft word, and Monday morning vibes, follow @TonOfClayton

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